The last time South Africa won a Test in Asia was way back in 2014. Hashim Amla had taken over the reins from Graeme Smith and there could not have been a better way to kick-start his tenure as captain with a series win in Sri Lanka. Fast forward to six and a half years, it’s a new South Africa side, who since have not won a single Test in Asia. In fact, including their loss in the first Test against Pakistan in Karachi, they have now lost seven Tests in a row in the subcontinent – a trend they would love to change in Rawalpindi.
It will not be easy though. Their weakness in Asia, especially against spin was once again exposed by Yasir Shah and debutant Nauman Ali. Even though Aiden Markram and Rassie Van der Dussen managed to play out an entire session without losing a wicket, the entire team collectively failed to acclimatise to the conditions and dig in for longer periods.
Since Test cricket resumed in Pakistan, two matches have been played, with close to 80 percent of the wickets falling to pacers. While there are indications that the grass has been cut from the pitch, and as a result, the new ball will not be as effective. With South Africa boasting of three quality pacers in Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, it could be a huge blow. As for Pakistan, while Shaheen Afridi is assured of a place in the XI, Pakistan could think twice about Hasan Ali, who looked a tad rusty on his return to Test cricket after a gap of two years.
While it was South Africa’s batting that let them down in Karachi, Van der Dussen is however, pleased with the way they planned for the match, but it is the execution that was lacking.
"It's disappointing because we had really good preparation going into that match. It was spot on. We had the right game plan. The execution was lacking, and the responsibility. We can't run away from it. We knew we needed 350 at least [in the first innings],” he said ahead of the second Test.
After winning the first two Tests as captain handsomely, Quinton de Kock was once again put in the scanner when his side – especially the batting unit – did not show enough intent to stick it out under tricky circumstances in Karachi. Despite a dropped catch in the first Test, de Kock’s batting position has become a point of debate. In Tests since 2019, de Kock has opened, played at five, six and also seven.
It is at seven that he has done exceedingly well, averaging 61.88, which included two tons and three fifties in eight innings. However, if de Kock were to bat at seven, South Africa will need a genuine batsman to fill in at either five or six. Perhaps, the inclusion of Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen or Kyle Verreynne could help. Having scored five First-Class centuries, all-rounder Wiaan Mulder too is a feasible option that could allow de Kock to bat at seven.
Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar are the only South Africa players other than de Kock who were part of the series-winning side in Sri Lanka in 2014 and it will be their responsibility to ensure that their team turn their fortunes around, especially in the subcontinent, where they could go a match without losing.
Then there’s a question of Tabraiz Shamsi, who would have played ahead of Ngidi in the first Test had he not injured himself during training. His inclusion would certainly add to South Africa’s variation. And if fit, he will walk straight into the XI.
South Africa likely XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock (c & wk), Temba Bavuma, George Linde/Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Tabraiz Shamsi, Anrich Nortje.
With conditions likely to assist the fast bowlers, Pakistan coach Misbah-ul-Haq has hinted that he will pick an extra fast bowler, if there is a need. However, it would be a difficult call as the spin duo of Yasir and Nauman Ali picked up 14 wickets between them in the first Test. Leaving out either one of them could be a difficult call, but if push came to shove, it could be Nauman, who could make way, despite picking up a fifer on Test debut.
Misbah has also backed Hasan Ali to come good in the second Test, despite picking up just two wickets in the first game. Hasan was the leading wicket-taker in the Quaid-e-Azam tournament with 43 wickets. Misbah feels that he should be given a cushion, considering he is playing in the longest format after a long gap.
“Hasan has bowled well throughout the season, a little bit of margin you have to give because when you're making a comeback after long, you might get a bit ambitious and try to do something too soon,” the Pakistan head coach said.
With Hasan more or less assured of a place in the team, it could boil down to Haris Rauf replacing Nauman, depending on the conditions.
Pakistan likely XI: Abid Ali, Imran Butt, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Faheem Ashraf, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Nauman Ali/Haris Rauf, Shaheen Afridi
There’s no lack of motivation for either side, given that both Pakistan and South Africa out of contention for a place in the World Test Championship (WTC) final. But they would still look to accumulate as many points as possible in the cycle to finish as high as possible in the table.
What: Pakistan vs South Africa, 2nd Test
Where: Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, Rawalpindi
When: February 4, 2021 (Thursday)
Time: 10:30 AM IST